Koos, Coogi, Cosby and B.I.G.

There’s never really an excuse for not doing your research.

I understand that the majority of blogs are just for fun but, even if you’re not getting paid, why bother spending the time to write something, if you’re not going to spend any time making sure what you’re writing is, in fact, fact?

You’ve got to be connected to the internet to upload something to your blog so it’s not a big step from that to just opening up a new tab to search a few keywords.

In the days before the internet, things were quite different – it’s easy to see how mistakes were made – but to perpetuate them now is just lazy. And lazy is never attractive.

I was watching Notorious, the Biggie Smalls biopic recently and thought to myself: “What ARE those ugly jumpers?!” A quick Google search reveals that – unsurprisingly – many other people have asked the same question.

They’re instantly recognisable – Biggie wore one in the Source shoot with the Versace glasses and the World Trade Centre in the background – so it wasn’t difficult to find out the answer: Coogi.

Coogi as in “Every cutie with the booty bought a Coogi” (not, though, as in “I stay Coogi down to the socks” because that word was “Gucci”, cloth ears.)

Originally named Cuggi, the Australian brand was started in 1969 by Jacky Taranto, with the name being changed in 1987, prompted by a desire to sound more indigenous.

The earliest celebrity sighting I can find proof of is on folk troubadour, John Denver. No stranger to having his senses filled up, of course he adopted the Coogi aesthetic.I suppose staring at one of these jumpers could be compared to a night in the forest. If you were stranded out in the forest on a visionquest and strung out on peyote.

By 1993, Coogi had been selected by The Smithsonian Institute as a testament to the company’s design and craftsmanship excellence. They even hold a copy of that year’s winter catalogue on permanent record, but I couldn’t access it to have a look.

No surprise, then, that these multi-coloured monstrosities became a big hit with those who had money to spare and taste to account for. I say money to spare as it seems they cost around $400 dollars back in the early nineties.

MTV interviewed the stylist Groovy Lew when Notorious was released in 2009 and he said:

“Back then, Coogi was like one of the finer things to buy. They were like 300, 400 a pop. If you got the special-edition ones, they was running you like 600, 700 — you know, the fruity colours.”

So they were expensive and obnoxious, pretty much a welcome call to a New York hip hop crowd who had, sadly, stopped popping over to Harlem to see Dapper Dan.

Groovy Lew also explained how Biggie first caught sight of Australia’s finest on a chap called Walt G:

“We used to go to the Grand on Sundays and my man had all the Coogis and the Kangols. And I got the pictures where G got his Kangol on and his Coogi, but Big had on Army jackets and Timberlands. So [Big] fell in love with this kid’s style right there – just took it to the next level for the world to see. If you weren’t Bill Cosby or just a rich mothefucker from Australia playing golf, nobody knew about [Coogi]. Big homie started running around with it, and that’s what opened the ‘hood up to it.”

And there’s the Coogi/Cosby connection.

Bill Cosby famously wore some funky-looking sweaters during the The Cosby Show’s long run and, in the days before all this information being just a click away, it’s easy to see why one expensive, brightly coloured patterned sweater could be mistaken for another.

It’s not the job of the originators of street-level trends to do the research, that job is left to those of us who pore over their sartorial choices later on. And rightly so – you want them to be too busy living the looks to be flicking through Vogue or GQ researching knitwear!

But still Coogi and Cosby are inseparable – inseparable on Google, inseparable on eBay and inseparable on the blogs.

The problem is, Bill Cosby’s signature sweaters weren’t Coogi.

Mr. Jell-O Pudding wore custom made creations by one Koos Van Den Akker, a Dutch born designer who settled in New York in the 60′s.

He may have worn Coogi – I don’t have access to every episode of the show to go deep on SweaterWatch, more’s the pity – but I can’t find any web eveidence. The most special of his pullovers were definitely Koos.

When he auctioned off some sweaters to benefit the charitable foundation set up in memory of his son, they were Koos, too.

How do I know all this?

Well, I opened up a tab and found it on the internet.

More precisely, I found a fantastic interview that Vice did as part of their Behind the Seams video series.

Press play on the video you’ll find the charming and entertaining Koos explaining how his sweaters ended up on The Cosby show. You’ll also learn how his tenure at Dior put him off the fashion world (and women in general!), how he got his first tattoo at 70 and the sweet story of a brocade fabric that provided a comfortable death bed for his cat, as well as a making a lovely jacket for one of his clients.

Having been privy to the design process in the video, it’s easy to see the differences between Koos’ work for Cosby and Coogi’s designs. Koos works very much with multiple fabrics and appliqué techniques whereas the Coogi designs are knitted.

Pretty obviously machine knitted, Biggies sweaters would have come from the Coogi factory in Richmond, just outside Melbourne, which closed in 1999.

I’m sure you’re itching to know what happened to Coogi.

Well, they’re still very much with us.

Sort of.

Despite moving to a different factory, a deal with the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and, the next year, taking up a Beverly Hills showroom, something went wrong.

I’m not sure how many people actually went out and bought themselves mercerised cotton memorials to Big Poppa, but any that did had obviously stopped doing so by 2002 when the company fell on hard times.

Various reports blame the post-911 decline in air-tourism for lack of sales and whilst that may be true, it’s also clear that the by the turn of the century, Coogi would have been considered passe by most.

The worlds of hip hop and mainstream fashion had become interlinked. Ghetto Fabuolousness had taken took a stronghold and its emphasis was on the sleek, and more recognised, aspirational brands. A $400 sweater doesn’t have the same clout when $2,000 Prada jackets are on your radar.

By then, rappers and their fans were not only more likely to be found reading Vogue and GQ, but to be in Vogue and GQ.

Even, the 18th hole crew had been given a glossy makeover, thanks to Nike and Tiger Woods.

In 2002 Coogi became Coogi Partners LLC, an American company with FUBU money who had big plans for an Italian-designed and produced Coogi luxe range but, from what I can see from the company’s current collection, the FUBU direction was where they stayed. Or, at least, that’s where they’ve ended up.

Branded with Australian flags, but mostly made in China, the majority of their clothing is largely forgettable and derivative but with a loyal following…albeit in a decidedly non-luxe price bracket.

They do have the Coogi Authentic range,though, where you can get knits that look pretty similar to the Coogis of yore. Whether the Smithsonian endorsed quality and workmanship is still there, is another question.

The fruity colours are less evident but they still retail at at around $400.

Inflation-buster, eh?

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5 responses to “Koos, Coogi, Cosby and B.I.G.

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